Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Large shark too close for comfort

Swimmers and boarders at Papamoa Beach head for sand as bronze whaler swims through the shallows.

A large shark that came within centimetres of swimmers sent people scurrying from the surf at Papamoa Beach yesterday.

Beach-goers who had close encounters with the bronze whaler - one noticing it just half a metre from where he was swimming - estimated its length at between 2m to 3m.

Two hours later, a shark splashing around in the shallows and observed by the Herald gathered another crowd. It was unclear whether it was the same shark.

Aucklander Warrick Smith was boarding among the breakers when he saw people fleeing from the water.

"I saw everyone running from the water and I wasn't sure it was a shark until it came out beneath me."

Warrick Smith and his daughter Ella Smith of Auckland, had a close encounter while boarding. Photo / Alan Gibson
Warrick Smith and his daughter Ella Smith of Auckland, had a close encounter while boarding. Photo / Alan Gibson

Mr Smith had been trying to work out where the shark was when he saw its fin pass under his board, sending him scrambling toward the shore along with his family.

Craig Nicholls, 21, didn't spot the shark until it was less than 1m from where he was body surfing.

"I was swimming around, just looking for the next wave, and I had a look in the water and noticed a dark shadow going past," he said. "It looked between 2.5m or 3m long ... and I decided I didn't want to be in the water any more."

Mr Nicholls said if he hadn't been close enough to distinguish the shark's sleek features, he wouldn't have been too frightened.

Maketu resident Marion Claridge was enjoying a day in the sun with her grandchildren, who had been in the water shortly before the shark appeared.

"I was lying under the umbrella when I heard my husband yell out, 'shark'," she said. "Then I looked and there it was, dark grey, and five to six foot, easy." Nearby, 13-year-old Sam Murphy ran to get a pair of binoculars.

The shark is just visible at Papamoa Beach yesterday, swimming through shallow water. Photo / Lisa Newman
The shark is just visible at Papamoa Beach yesterday, swimming through shallow water. Photo / Lisa Newman

"I saw it was a reasonably big shark, and then I saw it was heading toward a boat filled with these two kids," he said. "They looked really scared - one was paddling at the back of the boat frantically, trying to get in as fast they could."

With his siblings and cousins, Sam dashed down the beach shouting warnings. The children in the raft were carried in by a wave, and were glad to be back on shore, he said.

Sightings of bronze whalers are common along the stretch of beach, especially over summer, Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club Captain Shaun Smith said.

"It's a daily occurrence. The advice we give people is if they see a shark, to hop out of the water for their own safety."

Bronze whalers

*Commonly found around northern New Zealand.
*Can grow to 3.3m in length, and large pregnant females can weigh up to 200kg.
*Often lured close to shore by school fish.
*They do not pose a threat to humans, says Department of Conservation marine scientist Clinton Duffy: "They can generally tell between a fish and person, because their teeth aren't designed to eat anything as big as a human.

- NZ Herald

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